By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Before anyone asks, Phil Jackson is already taken. He’s got plenty of work to do in New York with the Knicks.
So the search for Mike D’Antoni‘s replacement as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers has to begin elsewhere. D’Antoni resigned tonight, ending his bumpy Hollywood ride 20 games below the .500 mark (67-87) and without fulfilling any of the ridiculous expectations that accompanied his arrival.
In fact, the Lakers have been reeling since they (well, Jim Buss) chose D’Antoni over Jackson when Mike Brown was fired five games into the 2012-13 season, a decision that was as curious then as it is now given the disastrous results. The Lakers were believed to be poised for a return to championship-level status when Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to form the nucleus of the revamped Lakers two years ago.
It never happened. Injuries and inconsistent play derailed that train before it ever got on the tracks. They scrambled their way into the eighth and final playoff spot at the end of the 2012-13 season, but Bryant suffered a torn Achilles and was unavailable for the postseason (they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs) and Howard bolted for Houston in free agency in July.
Reports that D’Antoni wanted the Lakers to pick up the team option on the fourth year of his contract, after a dreadful 27-55 season no less, surfaced in recent days. The Lakers reportedly refused to pick up the second year of his contract last week, per ESPNLosAngeles.com.
D’Antoni felt he wouldn’t have any chance at success without some job security, and you could argue he shouldn’t when you consider that he actually survived this season. Sure, there were injuries galore and drama that was beyond D’Antoni’s control. Bryant played just six games. Nash played 15. Gasol was in and out of the lineup and unable to find a rhythm or fill the leadership void.
But this Lakers’ crew wasn’t going far with Bryant and Nash healthy. They had absolutely no shot without those veteran stars leading the way. There was turmoil from the start and some of the most embarrassing moments in franchise history — that 48-point beating from the Los Angeles Clippers still stings — occurred under D’Antoni’s watch. The Lakers had the second worst season (.329 winning percentage) in their history and their lowest win total since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis.
“Given the circumstances, I don’t know that anybody could have done a better job than Mike did the past two seasons,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “On behalf of the Lakers, we thank Mike for the work ethic, professionalism and positive attitude that he brought to the team every day. We wish him the best of luck.”
Other more famous folks with deep Lakers’ ties simply wished him good riddance …
Where the Lakers go from here is simple; back to school. College, specifically, to grab Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski. And before you go crazy, hear me out on this one.
With a top-10 Draft pick and plenty of salary cap space to work with this summer, the Lakers have everything working in their favor. And that’s why they need to go bold with this next hire. They need a program builder. They need someone to repair the culture and start over with whatever new and improved cast they can put together around Bryant, Nash and whoever else they consider a part of the core.
They’ve pursued Coach K before, unsuccessfully, of course.
They need to get it right this time around.
We’ve seen the way Krzyzewski handles himself with NBA players. He’s been masterful with USA basketball. The NBA’s biggest stars — from Bryant and LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony all the way down the line — not only respect him, they go all-out for him in ways that many NBA types feared they would not when he joined Jerry Colangelo‘s program.
I’m not saying Krzyzewski is the only choice. No one could blame the Lakers if they go the traditional NBA route and tap a George Karl, Jeff or Stan Van Gundy or even someone with Lakers ties like Byron Scott.
They could even try to lure Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo or even Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, guys with great relationships with certain NBA players who could be key free agents in the coming seasons.
But the two best men for the job already have pretty good or great ones. The Zen Master is making a mint in New York to fix the Knicks and insists he’s done coaching. He’s off the list.
Krzyzewski could stay at Duke forever. And he might, if Bryant and the Lakers can’t convince the universally respected coach of the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team to finally take the leap and give the NBA a shot!